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Ed Webb

Iran's Rosh Hashana Twitter diplomacy stirs amazement, disbelief | The Back Channel - 0 views

  • Iran’s new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joined President Hassan Rouhani in tweeting “Happy Rosh Hashanah” greetings Thursday, on the occasion of the Jewish new year’s holiday, setting off a new wave of amazement, and some disbelief, in both the social media and policy universes.
  • The rare and unusually direct Twitter diplomacy between Iranian leaders and western policy observers “will go down in history,” one Hill staffer, speaking not for attribution, said Thursday, expressing the wider sense of amazement heard from many veteran Iran watchers at the display of tolerance and public diplomacy initiative coming from Tehran. The welcome change in atmospherics has added to hopes for a diplomatic opening created by Rouhani’s election. But it must be accompanied by substantive progress in nuclear negotiations to lead to a broader easing of ties, western analysts and officials said.
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

UAE offers to mediate Nile dam dispute in name of Red Sea security - Al-Monitor: The Pu... - 0 views

  • On March 26, the UAE formally offered to mediate the dam dispute and on March 31, the UAE invited the foreign ministers of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt for talks on the dam in Abu Dhabi. The UAE wishes to facilitate a deal that would allow Ethiopia to fill the dam and simultaneously ensure that the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, maintain sufficient access to Nile River water.
  • The UAE’s offer to mediate between conflicting parties in the dam dispute reflects its commitment to Red Sea security and a growing reliance on crisis diplomacy as a tool of power projection
  • the Saudi Arabia-led Red Sea security coalition that was inaugurated in January 2020.
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  • As the UAE officially ended its involvement in the Yemen conflict in October 2019 and its military intervention on Khalifa Haftar’s behalf in Libya failed, Abu Dhabi has relied increasingly on crisis diplomacy to expand its international influence
  • Although the US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, is currently discussing the dam on a regional tour, President Joe Biden has not committed the United States to a mediation role and recently consulted with the UAE on the Tigray crisis. The European Union has confined its role in the dam dispute to consultations with regional actors, such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, while Russia insists that the African Union should resolve disagreements over the dam. Saudi Arabia’s support for Egypt and Sudan’s position weakens the credibility of the Saudi mediation offer, while Egypt is wary of Turkish mediation, as it believes that Turkey provided technical assistance to Ethiopia on constructing the dam.
  • In addition to the positive precedent set by its successful facilitation of peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea in August 2018, the UAE views its close relationships with all of the conflicting parties in the dam dispute to be a major asset
  • an anti-UAE backlash that was caused by its initial opposition to Sudan’s democratic transition, recruitment of Sudanese mercenaries in Yemen and Libya and Eritrea’s alleged use of Emirati drones in Tigray.
  • udan and Egypt are much more likely than Ethiopia to accept Emirati mediation
  • A former senior US official who is familiar with the dam negotiations told Al-Monitor that Egypt was “forum-shopping” on the dam dispute as it fears a military escalation that could cause Ethiopia to retaliate by attacking Egypt's Aswan High Dam.
  • On March 3, Dina Mufti, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, said inviting external mediators would demean the African Union’s efforts
  • Although Qatar’s recent mediation of the Somalia-Kenya maritime dispute underscores the arbitration potential of Gulf countries in the Horn of Africa, the UAE faces an uphill struggle to achieve a major diplomatic breakthrough on the dam.
Ed Webb

Syria | United States | Diplomacy - 3 views

    Unusually biting commentary from the Syrian Embassy in DC. Who is the audience for this? It is extremely unlikely to convince US politicians to change course.
Ed Webb

Here's what will happen if Iran joins the WTO - The Washington Post - 3 views

  • While it remains uncertain whether economic and financial sanctions would be technically permissible under the WTO’s national security exception — which allows a member to take measures that it “considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests”– these actions would clearly violate the spirit of the WTO and have therefore been rarely used.
  • the United States has switched to using other tools for coercive diplomacy to punish other recent WTO entrants.
  • Congress therefore created the China Commission, which was specifically formed to monitor China’s human rights practices and maintain pressure on it. Similarly, Congress passed measures designed to allow it to more effectively use visa restrictions and financial asset freezes to coerce Russia, and foreign aid to extract concessions from Vietnam, after these states joined the WTO.
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.
  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

Reporting on the Iran nuclear deal: 'nothing happens until everything happens' | Member... - 0 views

  • Diplomacy always seems expensive until you consider the alternative
  • For Rezaian – now a Washington columnist – and many of those who saw the worst side of the Islamic Republic, its cruelties are all the more reason to prevent it developing nuclear weapons, and bind it into an international agreement. For others, particularly on the American right, any deal that eased the pressure on Iran’s economy would make the west complicit in Iran’s oppression at home and aggression abroad. In the end, all those years of diplomacy and all the delicate compromises of the JCPOA, by which the Iranians accepted nuclear limits for sanctions relief, came to naught. Tehran’s nuclear programme is expanding again, and the US and Iran are back on the brink of conflict. It is a chilling thought that no one in the US chain of command has the authority to stop Trump if he were to pick up the verification codes on the small plastic card (for some reason called the nuclear “biscuit”) that a US president always has close by, and order up Armageddon. With that other extinction-level threat, the climate emergency, there is so much happening that it is impossible to keep up. But the nuclear threat is different: nothing happens until everything happens. By the time there is something substantial to report on, it could be far too late.
Ed Webb

Force of habit: Why the U.S. risks being sucked into a military showdown with Iran - Re... - 1 views

  • without a coherent political strategy for resolving tensions in Iraq and between the US and Iran – American strikes will only accelerate a cycle of tit-for-tat escalation that drags Washington and Tehran closer to a direct military clash
  • For some hardliners in Iran, the escalation game is useful for damaging the prospects of US-Iranian diplomacy and increasing Iranian leverage in advance of potential nuclear and regional negotiations, including those on Yemen
  • Like Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Biden’s recent show of force has done little to create meaningful deterrence and cement new rules.
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  • Since becoming president, Biden has taken few steps to ease the pressure on Iran, even on the humanitarian front. This is despite widespread acknowledgement that the Trump administration – rather than Tehran – was initially responsible for undermining the 2015 nuclear deal
  • the determination of the US, Iran, and other regional actors to demonstrate that nuclear talks will not weaken their resolve on regional issues could, conversely, heighten tensions between them even as these discussions progress
  • Europeans should also forge a close partnership with like-minded Middle Eastern states, to press both Tehran and Washington to desist from further escalation. These states include not just Oman and Kuwait but also the United Arab Emirates, which has recently displayed a new enthusiasm for diplomacy
Ed Webb

Thanks to Trump, Iran Is Winning the Battle for the Middle East's Future - 0 views

  • a world undergoing major change, as China, Russia, and regional powers such as Iran seek to supplant U.S. military hegemony.  Nowhere is this shift more apparent than in the Middle East, where the incoherence of the Trump administration’s foreign policy has been on full display. However, these rapid changes also present a lesson on the overreach of past U.S. interventions and an opportunity for the United States to extricate itself from regional conflicts and push local powers toward cooperation.
  • a recent interview aired on Iranian state television with Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  In the rare interview, reportedly the first given by Suleimani in more than 20 years, the elusive commander outlined the regional landscape leading up to the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War
  • According to Suleimani, Israel’s goal was to “get rid of Hezbollah forever.” He lamented the “willingness of Arab countries and their discreet announcement of cooperation” with Israel at the time, which he claimed was aimed at “obliterating Hezbollah and changing the demography in southern Lebanon.”
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  • Over the past decade and a half, the wars waged by Washington and its allies against the Iran-led camp have all been unsuccessful. Hezbollah fought Israel to a bloody stalemate in 2006. Iranian influence in Iraq has been consolidated. Iran and its allies have won the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed to bring Iran to heel.
  • At a time when Trump is pushing uncompromising unilateralism, the rest of the world has made clear its desire for a rules-based order grounded in multilateralism, as evident in efforts to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the advent of new regional institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. In the Middle East, the United States and its major European and regional allies no longer share a cohesive, united vision. This is evident not just in Trump’s haphazard approach to the troop withdrawal from Syria but in his drive to undo the Iran nuclear deal.
  • The coalition of Arab states and Israel that the Trump administration had mobilized against Iran now shows serious signs of splintering
  • for the Gulf states, the forecast is clear: The United States is leaving the Middle East. They have long feared losing the U.S. security umbrella, which was at the root of their rage against former President Barack Obama’s diplomacy with Iran. However, after inciting Trump to escalation and conflict with Iran, his refusal to deploy U.S. military power after the aforementioned attacks is spurring a fundamental recalculation of their security strategies
  • the Emirati government has reached a new maritime agreement with Iran and has reportedly sent a senior official to Tehran to improve ties. Even Saudi Arabia, the leader of the anti-Iran bloc, is communicating to Iran a desire for de-escalation and an end to the war in Yemen
  • It in fact makes little sense for the United States to bear most of the cost of securing the Gulf. In a 2010 study, Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Princeton University, found that from 1976 to 2007, the United States spent $6.8 trillion on protecting the oil flow from the Persian Gulf. “[O]n an annual basis the Persian Gulf mission now costs about as much as did the Cold War,” Stern wrote. This expenditure is even more striking given that, in recent years, the United States has received less than 10 percent of Gulf hydrocarbons. In effect, Washington has given the major importers of Gulf energy (i.e., China, India, and Japan) a free ride when it comes to their energy security.
  • push for the creation of a collective security system in the Gulf
  • A Gulf security system could help ease the security dilemmas between Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries through institutionalized forums for regular dialogue and the facilitation of nonaggression pacts. For such a system to be successful in assuming the burden for ensuring the free flow of Gulf energy, it will require external powers, particularly the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the European Union, and the other major importers of Gulf hydrocarbons, to play a helpful role in promoting regional dialogue
  • it was not Suleimani’s victories that led to the current juncture but self-defeating moves by successive U.S. administrations afflicted with hubris and a desire to transform the Middle East
Ed Webb

FDD Aligned with State Department to Attack Supporters of Iran Diplomacy - LobeLog - 0 views

  • the State Department suspended its funding for a mysterious website and Twitter account, and @IranDisInfo, after the project attacked human rights workers, journalists and academics, many of whom are based inside the U.S. But the role of the U.S. government in financing IranDisInfo’s criticisms of Human Rights Watch and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that has been outspoken in warning about the Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive military posture towards Iran, appears to have been in collaboration with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). FDD pushes for military confrontation with Iran and has received funding from some of Trump and the GOP’s biggest campaign megadonors. While simultaneously denying their support for a war with Iran, FDD’s scholars have repeatedly urged U.S. military action against the Islamic Republic.
  • Dubowitz and his FDD colleagues have been advising the Trump White House on their regime change strategy in Iran.
  • FDD’s involvement with IranDisInfo was thinly concealed.  The website and Twitter account heavily promoted Mark Dubowitz and FDD advisor Saeed Ghasseminejad. Buried on FDD’s website is an “Iran Disinformation Project” that publishes the identical content from Ghasseminejad that was cross-posted on IranDisInfo’s website. And on at least five occasions FDD’s Twitter account promoted articles by Ghasseminejad “in @IranDisInfo.” Except the links didn’t send users to IranDisInfo’s website. Instead, the links were to FDD’s own “Iran Disinformation Project,” hosted on FDD’s website.
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  • In 2017, FDD received $3.63 million from billionaire Bernard Marcus, which constituted over a quarter of FDD’s contributions that year. Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, is outspoken about his hatred of Iran, which he characterized as “the devil” in a 2015 Fox Business interview. Marcus is Trump’s second biggest campaign supporter, contributing $7 million to pro-Trump super PACs before the 2016 election.
  • by the end of the 2011 tax year, Sheldon Adelson, who went on to become Trump’s single biggest campaign funder, the GOP’s biggest funder in the 2018 midterms, and personal advocate for Trump to take Bolton as his national security adviser, was FDD’s third biggest donor, contributing at least $1.5 million. (Dubowitz says Adelson no longer contributes to FDD.) In 2013, Adelson publicly proposed the U.S. launch a preventive nuclear attack on Iran, targeting the desert, and threaten to launch a second nuclear weapon at Tehran if Iran didn’t abandon its nuclear program.
  • the Trump administration’s decision to seemingly enter into a collaborative arrangement with FDD or Ghasseminejad, an FDD “adviser,” points to the State Department, under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s leadership, moving to increasingly align itself with organizations and individuals pushing the U.S. towards another war in the Middle East.
  • Marcus and Adelson publicly endorse a militarist posture towards Iran and aren’t shy about writing big checks to politicians and organizations that share that mission. With Adelson and Marcus’s preferred national security adviser, John Bolton, evidently pushing the U.S. towards a military confrontation with Iran, it’s no wonder that FDD, possibly (until Friday) with the support of U.S.-taxpayer funding, is engaged in a public-diplomacy campaign against critics of Trump and Bolton’s Iran policy.
Ed Webb

Senate Democrats hold up arms sales for Saudi war in Yemen - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of t... - 2 views

  • Congress was notified Aug. 19 of the Obama administration's intent to provide Riyadh with thousands of precision-guided munitions. The sale is linked to the administration's effort to placate Gulf countries' concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal, but it has hit a snag with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who want to see the Saudi-led campaign reeled in.
  • “I fear that our failure to strongly advocate diplomacy in Yemen over the past two years, coupled with our failure to urge restraint in the face of the crisis last spring, may put the viability of this critical [US-Saudi] partnership at risk,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “The Leahy Law prohibits US security assistance — and many forms of defense cooperation — with forces that have engaged in gross violations of human rights. If reports are accurate, the Saudi indiscriminate targeting in the air campaign and an overly broad naval blockade could well constitute such violations.”
  • While the sale is almost certain to go through eventually, they hope to use it as leverage to win concessions on kick-starting political negotiations with the Houthis and lifting the blockade
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  • Critics of the sale in particular point out that Riyadh has been able to derive extra legitimacy from the US support for its campaign. “We are very careful in picking targets. We have very precise weapons,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CBS News after an airstrike killed more than 130 people at a wedding reception. “We work with our allies, including the United States, on these targets.”
  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “It's not all bad that the Saudis decided that they wanted to act immediately in Yemen. I don't think we need to be 'mother may I' in terms of folks acting in their own security interests in the region. But I am struck by the level of their response compared to what I view as an extremely tepid response to Sunni extremism. It's not just Iranian influence in the region that should trouble us.”
Ed Webb

Netanyahu, With New National-Unity Coalition, Sends Peace Process Letter to Abbas - Tab... - 0 views

  • it’s the least-dead the peace process has been since the short direct talks of the late summer 2010, or perhaps even the secret talks of 2008
  • Netanyahu pressured members of his own party—in a sign that with the new coalition he feels more secure leading a Likud Party that is to the right of himself—to block a bill that would apply Israeli civil instead of military law to settlements, effectively annexing them. It’s a real setback for Rep. Joe Walsh, Republican from Illinois, who advocates a full-on one-state solution.
Ed Webb

Talk Like an Iranian - Christopher de Bellaigue - The Atlantic - 1 views

  • Ta’arof comes from an Arabic word denoting the process of getting acquainted with someone. But as with so many other Arabic words that have entered the Persian language through conquest and acculturation, the Iranians have subverted its meaning. In the Iranian context, ta’arof refers to a way of managing social relations with decorous manners. It may be charming and a basis for mutual goodwill, or it may be malicious, a social or political weapon that confuses the recipient and puts him at a disadvantage. Ta’arof is the opposite of calling a spade a spade; life is so much nicer without bad news. As I discovered in the Department of Alien Affairs, ta’arof can also be a way of letting people down very, very slowly. It often involves some degree of self-abasement, through which the giver of ta’arof achieves a kind of moral ascendancy—what the anthro­pologist William Beeman has called “getting the lower hand.” Thus, at a doorway, grown men may be seen wrestling for the privilege of going in second. For years in Tehran, we had a cleaner who insisted on calling me “Doctor” as a way of lifting me up the social scale. “I am not a doctor,” I snapped one day. Undaunted, she replied, “Please God, you shall be!”
  • Ta’arof can be particularly dis­orienting for Americans, who tend to prize efficiency, frankness, and in­formality. John Limbert, a retired diplomat who has been involved in Iranian affairs for 50 years, has given this culture clash more thought than most. Iranian society, he notes, is full of apparently inconsistent elements that we in the West regard as hypo­critical. “Our instincts are to reconcile the contra­dictions,” he told me recently, while Iranians prefer “to live with them.” Limbert was among the Americans held hostage by a group of Iranian militants for 444 days in 1979–81. In April 1980, he was paraded on Iranian TV alongside the revolutionary cleric Ali Khamenei. In flawless Persian, Limbert joked that his captors had “overdone the ta’arof”—­going on to explain that they were such diligent hosts, they had refused to let their guests go home. The joke was itself a very Iranian way to level a sharp criticism: it allowed Limbert to highlight the hostage-takers’ breach of traditional Iranian hospitality.
  • Ta’arof is not always supposed to have a resolution; the best conclusion may be an open-ended one. So it has proved with Iran’s nuclear dossier. So, too, with my own, more personal, diplomacy. I applied for Iranian citizenship in 2004. My “accomplish­ments” have not diminished. But I am still waiting for a reply.
Ed Webb

Egyptian President Seeks Regional Initiative for Syria Peace - - 0 views

  • Coming at a moment of acute hand-wringing in the Western capitals over how an Islamist leadership of the largest Arab state might alter the American-backed regional order, Mr. Morsi’s focus bisects Washington’s customary division of the region, between Western-friendly states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other, said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.
  • Mr. Morsi’s specific initiative, in particular, also appears largely harmonious with the stated Western objective of ending the Syrian bloodshed.
  • I don’t think this is a confrontational foreign policy. It is a regional foreign policy, tacking a regional problem through the capitals of the four most influential regional states, without looking through the prism of Washington and Tel Aviv
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  • Mr. Morsi is visiting Tehran this week to attend a meeting of an organization of so-called nonaligned states, but his spokesman, Mr. Ali, said the visit would last only a few hours, without any bilateral talks
  • The unorthodox combination of players in the proposed working group is a measure of the changing dynamics within the region. Mr. Morsi comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arab Islamist movement that has long been opposed to Saudi Arabia’s Western-friendly monarchy, which has outlawed the group as subversive. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been fierce rivals of Iran. And while Iran has provided military and logistics support to the Assad government, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have helped arm the rebels trying to bring it down. Mr. Morsi, though, may be well positioned to bring together the working group, analysts said. Egypt has credibility as “an emerging player in the Arab world and a somewhat successful model of a democratic transition in the Arab Spring,” said Mr. Harling of the International Crisis Group.
  • Mr. Morsi’s spokesman, Mr. Ali, stressed that the new president intended to make independence and openness the hallmarks of Egyptian foreign policy. “Egyptian diplomacy will be more active, more vibrant,” he said. “We have gone through a very long period of diplomatic stagnation, torpidity and rigidity.” He added: “We’re not counted in any axis or any old groupings. Therefore, our minds are open for everyone, and our hands are extended to everyone.”
  • Egypt has in recent months received $3 billion in loans from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. And the United States is in talks over the delivery of more than $1 billion in promised aid.
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